A successful exit strategy: the Holy Grail of most, if not all, business owners.
This week, in an exclusive piece of research conducted by Zephyr in association with Knight Corporate Finance and Clarion Solicitors, we document the hundreds of successful exit strategies to have taken place within the wider creative sector in the North over the past five or so years.
Our detailed study into recent M&A activity represents the first time such information has been collated and presented, and certainly the first time it has concentrated on both our sector and region.
Over the coming week we will detail the Northern-based companies who have bought companies outside the North, while we’ll also look at the VC, business angel and other deals.
But for today and tomorrow, the focus turns to the deals regarding those Northern companies who have been acquired.
Jonathan Simms, Partner at Clarion, said: “This is a sector that is booming, and the demand for talent to secure long term clients is paramount. As well as developing home grown talent within an agency, mergers and acquisitions can provide a great opportunity to bring in fresh ideas, new client contacts and new in-house service lines.
“In our experience, a successful agency has strong leadership, a commercially focussed management team and most importantly an excellent pool of creative and technically gifted people. Keeping ahead of competitors requires a constant drive to develop and retain key people who can ensure that the agency continues to evolve and adapt its offering to its clients. Standing still is not an option.”
The research reinforces the impression of the North as a hugely fertile territory for deals, and also reiterates the ever-changing nature of the creative industries landscape.
One of those closely involved in a deal below is Michael Gibson. As managing director, he grew Fat Media from a small office in Lancaster to the point it was acquired by entrepreneur David Durnford for a seven-figure sum in 2014.
As well as being chair of Digital Lancashire, he now covers the Northern region for Advertising M&A, a specialist M&A consultancy.
‘Digital agencies are not that sexy anymore’
He points to the emergence of a new “middle sector” of target-hungry companies.
“There are the major agency groups – the likes of WPP and Dentsu Aegis – who are always looking, but a key development has been the growth of a middle sector who are trying to build interesting agency groups.
“So you’ve got companies like St Ives, Paperhat and Attercopia who are building a sum of parts that is worth greater together. If you put 10 £2m agencies together, that’s £20m, with say £4-5m profit, so that’s why we’re seeing more do that.”
He said that buying companies were looking for one of two things in targets: the ability to fill a gap through either its location or offering, and also the “sexy next big thing”. “Digital agencies are not that sexy anymore,” Gibson added, “there are 180 of them in Lancashire alone.”
From the selling company’s perspective, Gibson said that many agencies were having to “fundamentally” look at their business models on a regular basis, just to keep up.
“Take SEO agencies – in the early days it was a numbers game, but now it’s moved into content marketing which trips into PR, and it’s all about how you prove value. Virtually every agency I know has moved into software – take Richard Gregory at Ruler Analytics, Neil McKay at Endless Gain, or Al Mackin at Formisimo.”
‘Don’t sell – be bought’
Over in Yorkshire, Rob Shaw was closely connected to one of the largest deals on the list, the £18m acquisition of Epiphany by Sheffield-based Jaywing.
He advised businesses looking for an exit strategy to simply focus on building the best company they could.
“Don’t sell – be bought,” he said. “You build the company that’s so attractive people will come to you. Of course there’s a process to it as well, but people will gravitate to you.”
He said the practical and cultural alignment of the two businesses had “taken longer than expected”, but “you can’t force people, you’ve just got to let that happen”.
He added: “Genuinely, it’s been a positive experience. It’s allowed Epiphany to leverage the wider Jaywing, the skills, case studies and access to clients that perhaps we didn’t have. The most material impact is that it’s allowed us to build new products – such as a tool called Almanac that tracks both online and offline behaviour to get a complete view of the customer.”
‘Culturally it was a good fit’
Simon Hayward led the 2013 merger of brand engagement and leadership specialist Cirrus – then just two years old – with Cheshire agency The Raft.
He said it “wasn’t an easy process” as both agencies brought together experiences, processes and mindsets.
“I think we could probably have done more of getting people to walk in each other’s shoes more quickly. It’s all very well talking about it but you only really learn when you get out,” he said.
“The richness comes from working through all that rather than compromising with the lowest common denominator.”
Cirrus had around a dozen employees at the time of the deal, but headcount now totals over 50. “The Raft were already a supplier so we knew them and knew each other and knew they were very good and responsive. Culturally it was a good fit,” he said.
Our partners for the M&A Week initiative:
Knight Corporate Finance was founded by Adam Zoldan and Paul Billingham in December 2008 with the specific aim of advising businesses and entrepreneurs in the telecommunications, media and technology (TMT) sector. Both founders spent long periods of their careers in senior commercial and operational roles in the sector and bring a unique level of experience to transactions based on genuine industry knowledge.
Knight advises its clients on Strategy, Funding, Acquisition and Exit, and has completed over 70 transactions establishing itself as one of the leading corporate finance boutiques in its sector. The business has a team of nine professionals with offices in London and Warrington.
Clarion, a Leeds-headquartered law firm, has brought together a team of highly rated lawyers, many from national and international law firms, who work without the restrictions and cost implications associated with international legal practices.
It is widely recognised for its expertise and dynamic handling of sensitive, high profile and complex situations in the UK and internationally.
Northern creative companies acquired between 2010 and 2016 (Part 1)
|Date||Target name||Location||Subsector||Deal value
|Deal type||Acquiror name|
|12/01/2010||Latitude Group Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Institutional buy-out 100%||MBO Team|
|28/01/2010||Redwood Press Ltd||Manchester||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Call Print Group Ltd|
|19/02/2010||Infoserve Group plc||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||2.00||Acquisition 67.712%||Mr David Hood|
|19/02/2010||Rocketfish Ltd||Southport||Digital Services||0.50*||Minority stake unknown %||Mr Daniel Birke|
|01/03/2010||New Media Choice Ltd||Brigg||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Edge Interactive Ltd|
|03/03/2010||QIC Print (Cumbria) Ltd||Carlisle||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Mr Hugh Wratten|
|08/03/2010||Robson Brown Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Round 2 Media International LLC|
|06/04/2010||Best Cover UV Ltd||Bury||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Best Cover UV Ltd’s undisclosed previous owner|
|07/04/2010||Lick UK Ltd’s assets||Leeds||Digital services||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Lick Group Ltd|
|11/05/2010||Radius Design & Marketing Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Bowdon Investments Group plc|
|14/05/2010||Grove House Publishing Ltd||Macclesfield||Publishing||1.64*||Acquisition 100%||Ten Alps plc|
|31/05/2010||Raft Marketing Ltd, The||Wilmslow||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Management buy-out 52.5%||Mr Shaun Keef, Mr Phil Howells|
|16/06/2010||APG Visual Colour Ltd’s assets||Stockport||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Character Mailing Services Ltd|
|20/07/2010||Fuse 8 Group Ltd||Leeds||Digital Services||5.00||Acquisition 100%||Award International Holdings plc|
|29/07/2010||Ipso Facto Films (Nasty Neighbours) Ltd||Newcastle Upon Tyne||TV production||0.15||Minority stake unknown %||NorthStar Equity Investors Ltd|
|03/09/2010||Identify Engraving Systems Ltd||Washington||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Trotec Laser Ltd|
|10/09/2010||Charlesworth UK Ltd||Nottingham||Printing||2.00||Acquisition 100%||Alpha Educational Print Ltd|
|19/10/2010||Tech Litho Ltd||Bootle||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Character DPM Group Ltd|
|19/10/2010||APG Visual Colour Ltd||Manchester||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Character DPM Group Ltd|
|19/10/2010||Tudor Print & Design Ltd||Liverpool||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Character DPM Group Ltd|
|20/10/2010||Attinger Jack Advertising Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Round 2 International – UK Ltd|
|01/11/2010||Paramount Print Group Ltd||Manchester||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Character DPM Group Ltd|
|16/11/2010||Kendall Press Ltd||Altrincham||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||MTS Press Ltd|
|01/12/2010||Delete Digital Marketing Ltd||Leeds||Digital Services||0.40||Acquisition 100%||Fuse 8 plc|
|23/12/2010||Wisden Cricketer Publishing Ltd||York||Publishing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Lord Marland, Mr Jonathan Agnew, Mr Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Mr Neil Davidson, Mr Simon Hughes|
|31/12/2010||LINPAC Group||London, Pontefrac, Castleford, Cheadle, Newport||TV production||n.a.||Institutional buy-out||Chamonix II LP|
|06/01/2011||Dene Group||Newcastle Upon Tyne||TV Production||0.65||Minority stake unknown %||NEL Fund Managers Ltd, FW Capital Ltd|
|17/01/2011||Orbitron Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||DMWSL 620 Ltd|
|19/01/2011||Paton Brown Ltd||Bury||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Management buy-out 100%||MBO Team – United Kingdom|
|31/01/2011||Latitude Digital Marketing Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Callcredit Information Group Ltd|
|04/03/2011||Watermark Publishing Ltd||Dewsbury||Publishing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||UK Greetings Ltd|
|08/03/2011||Media Sales Network Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Management buy-out 100%||MBO Team – United Kingdom|
|16/03/2011||Pier Professional Ltd||Bingley||Publishing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Emerald Group Publishing Ltd|
|08/04/2011||Character DPM Group Ltd||Manchester||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Magnadata International Ltd|
|15/04/2011||JM Roberts Print Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Boss Direct Ltd|
|15/04/2011||Ioko 365 Ltd||York||Marketing & Communications||50||Acquisition||Piksel|
|18/04/2011||Plotters Plus Ltd||Manchester||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Undisclosed acquirors|
|17/06/2011||McClelland Publishing Ltd||Manchester||Publishing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Media Sales Network Ltd|
|01/07/2011||Imagesound plc||Chesterfield||Music Production||10.23*||Institutional buy-out 100%||Concentia Capital Ltd|
|26/07/2011||GA Pindar & Son Ltd’s web offset printing and bindery division||Scarborough||Digital services||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||York Mailing Ltd|
|28/07/2011||Bridge + Tunnel Productions||Newcastle Upon Tyne||TV production||0.05||Minority stake unknown %||NorthStar Equity Investors Ltd|
|15/08/2011||WRG Creative Communications Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||12.00||Minority stake unknown %||LDC|
|23/08/2011||Bezier Holdings Ltd||Ossett||Printing||n.a.||Institutional buy-out 100%||MBO Team, HIG Capital|
|24/08/2011||Pearson Print Ltd||Bury||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||RAP Spiderweb Ltd|
|13/09/2011||GA Pindar & Son Ltd’s confidential printing operation||Scarborough||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Secure and Confidential Documents Ltd|
|14/09/2011||so2say communications Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society|
|19/09/2011||RKA Records Ltd||Darlington||Music Production||0.05||Acquisition 79%||Mr Duncan Bannatyne|
|26/09/2011||IVE Global Ltd||Salford||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Lead Creators Ltd|
|19/10/2011||Hangar Seven Ltd||Stockport||Marketing & Communications||1.00||Minority stake unknown %||Catapult Venture Managers Ltd|
|01/12/2011||Brilliant Independent Media Specialists Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||MediaCom Worldwide Inc.|
|07/12/2011||Intermarketing & Communications Group Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Management buy-out 100%||MBO Team – United Kingdom|
|10/01/2012||Mawers Ltd||Darlington||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 50%||Mr Phil Evans, Mr Phil Harburn|
|16/01/2012||Fuse 8 Group Ltd||Leeds||Digital Services||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Mr Mark Walton, Mr Andy Hutchinson|
|19/01/2012||Rawlings Financial PR Ltd||York||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Tavistock Communications Ltd|
|23/01/2012||SF Taylor & Co Ltd||Manchester||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Chatham House|
|02/02/2012||M Media & Design Ltd||Hartlepool||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Merger 100%||Property Webmasters Ltd|
|09/02/2012||Adversion Ltd||Norwich||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Banner Managed Communication Ltd|
|23/02/2012||Selpack Ltd||Huddersfield||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Print-Leeds Ltd|
|09/03/2012||GW Askew & Son (Printers) Ltd||Doncaster||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Whitesprint Group Ltd|
|23/03/2012||Delta Labelling Ltd||Washington, Hong Kong||Printing||12.50||Acquisition||OpSec Security Group plc|
|27/03/2012||Brand Addition Ltd, Kreyer Promotion Service GmbH||Manchester, Hagen||Marketing & Communications||24.00||Institutional buy-out||HIG Milan UK Bidco Ltd, B270 Vermögensverwaltung GmbH|
|03/04/2012||Pelican Press Ltd, The||Manchester||Printing||0.02||Acquisition 100%||Eastland Colour Ltd|
|03/04/2012||Survival Media Ltd||Liverpool||Publishing||n.a.||Minority stake unknown %||AXM Venture Capital Ltd|
|13/04/2012||Cypher Digital Imaging Ltd||Carlisle||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||H&H Group plc|
|20/04/2012||Advertising Principles Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Advertising Principles Holdings Ltd|
|16/05/2012||Raft Marketing Ltd, The||Wilmslow||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Cirrus Connect Ltd|
|21/05/2012||Product Revolution Ltd||Houghton-le-Spring||Digital Services||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||SONE Products Ltd|
|23/05/2012||Sentric Music Ltd||Liverpool||Music Production||n.a.||Minority stake unknown %||AXM Venture Capital Ltd|
|11/06/2012||Momentum Instore Ltd||Macclesfield||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Management buy-out 100%||MBO Team – United Kingdom|
|11/06/2012||Lakestar Media Limited||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||McCann Worldgroup|
|18/06/2012||Pixel One Ltd||Rotherham||Digital Services||n.a.||Merger 100%||DM2 Creative Ltd|
|19/06/2012||Garden Marketing Ltd, The||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||0.40||Minority stake 49%||Communisis plc|
|20/07/2012||Print 5 Ltd||Wirral||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Link Mailing Ltd|
|23/07/2012||Room 501 Ltd||Seaham||Digital Services||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Business & Enterprise Group|
|31/07/2012||Trylife Ltd||Newcastle Upon Tyne||TV production||0.15||Minority stake unknown %||NorthStar Equity Investors Ltd|
|01/08/2012||Intoprint (UK) Ltd||Leeds||Printing||n.a.||Institutional buy-out 50%||Seneca Investments Ltd|
|15/08/2012||Canyon Associates Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||WRG Creative Communications Ltd|
|30/08/2012||Marketing Leeds Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||0.50||Minority stake unknown %||Government’s Regional Growth Fund|
|20/09/2012||Carbon Digital Ltd||Salford||Digital Services||n.a.||Minority stake unknown %||AXM Venture Capital Ltd|
|03/10/2012||At One Communications||Crewe||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Printing House Ltd, The|
|04/10/2012||Iris Associates Ltd||Sheffield||Digital Services||2.40*||Acquisition 100%||Brand Communications Ltd|
|09/10/2012||Sports Publications Ltd||Leeds||Publishing||n.a.||Management buy-in/buy-out unknown majority stake %||BIMBO Team|
|24/10/2012||Tameside Reporter, Glossop Chronicle||Glossop||Publishing||n.a.||Acquisition||New Charter Housing Trust Ltd|
|01/11/2012||Diamond Print Express Ltd||Hessle||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||D3 Office Group Ltd|
|09/11/2012||Barker Brooks Communications Ltd||Leeds||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Sleekside Ltd|
|19/11/2012||Wood Holmes Group Ltd||Newcastle Upon Tyne||Digital Services||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Explain Market Research Ltd|
|30/11/2012||Monarch Indexing Company Ltd||Barnsley||Printing||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||Ace Bookbinders Ltd|
|20/12/2012||MSM Media Ltd||Manchester||Marketing & Communications||n.a.||Acquisition 100%||A J Bell Holdings Ltd|
|07/02/2013||Ph Creative Ltd||Liverpool||Marketing & Communications||0.50*||Minority stake unknown %||Enterprise Ventures Ltd|
|22/02/2013||Eye Corp (UK) Ltd||Harrogate||Digital services||3.30||Acquisition 100%||Airport Partners Ltd|
Data compiled by Zephyr
See our full M&A series:
M&A Week Day 1: Northern creative companies acquired between 2010 and 2016
M&A Week Day 2: Northern creative companies acquired between 2010 and 2016 (part 2)
M&A Week Day 3: The Northern acquirers buying companies based elsewhere
M&A Week Day 4: Northern targets for Private Equity and VC deals
M&A Week Day 5: Mergers and acquisitions in the creative industries: a concluding perspective